Saturday, March 30, 2002

Napa Valley Snapshots

One of our early day trips was to the Napa Valley. The Napa Valley is about an hour's drive from San Francisco and is renowned for its wines. We took this trip at the start of February because we wanted to ensure that we finished the stock before we left (well all except one bottle ... see the Playing Catchup Blogging post for further details - Tony). Unfortunately none of the wines was outstanding - I guess that's what happens when you choose your wineries from a backpacker's guide.

Napa Valley wineries

The Robert Mondavi Winery is a big, commercial winery - probably one of the most well-known in the valley. In 2000 they announced a "joint venture" with Rosemount Estate to produce two new wines, one in Australia and one in California.
This statue of Saint Francis of Assisi greets visitors as they drive into the Robert Mondavi Winery.

We were all "tasted out" by the time we reached the Robert Mondavi Winery. In any case, we had already tried many of their wines as they featured prominently on the wine list at the Courtyard Marriot in San Bruno, the hotel where Tony and I initially stayed.

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At the northern end of the Napa Valley is Calistoga, a town famous for its mineral water and hot springs. It is said that the town's name was derived from the founder's description of the town as the "Calistoga of Sarafornia". He meant to say the "Saratoga of California", Saratoga being a well-known spa town in New York. (He'd obviously sampled one too many of the local reds - Tony)

We visited Calistoga to see the Old Faithful Geyser and the Petrified Forest.

Old Faithful Geyser
This is the entrance to the "Old Faithful Geyser" complex. I was expecting a small ranger hut, possibly a visitor centre, dusty track, forest - not a large parking lot with pillars and gates.
Because the geyser normally erupts every 40-50 minutes, the owners have set up a series of amusements for the tourists. There is:
  • A self-guided walk around the "grounds"
    You can walk across the grounds in about 5 minutes. I'm sure the parking lot is bigger.

  • A small video room showing old TV coverage of the Geyser

  • Three fainting goats
    We haven't worked out what fainting goats have to do with geysers yet.

  • Information on how geysers form

  • Picnic grounds
We were lucky : the geyser was erupting every 8 minutes because of recent rains.
Near the geyser is an old cement pool that was once used for mineral baths. Hot water from underground was cooled with water from a nearby well.

The pool was later used as a wishing well, and numerous coins remain, covered in mineral deposits. The triangular holes are presumably how the hot water entered the pool; we could see steam still rising up through them.

This old cat was oblivious to the geyser - all it wanted was food.
On our way to the geyser we passed a diner. Tony said we had to have lunch there because:
  1. The diner sold burgers - very important
  2. It was not far from the geyser
  3. We had to come back past the diner to go the Petrified Forest
  4. It was located on Mitzi Drive and we had to get a photo of the sign

(Funny, I recall a different ordering of these features ... - Tony)

So here is the photo complete with the requisite fire hydrant.

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The Petrified Forest
The Petrified Forest is, according to one of our guide books, the "home of the largest petrified trees in the world". Most of the trees were redwoods, knocked down and covered with ash and mud when Mount Saint Helena erupted over 3 million years ago.

This wood pile shows some petrified tree logs in their natural state. Most of the petrified trees displayed in the park are blasted with high-pressure water hoses to remove the lichen and dirt.

Some "logs" were placed in a clearing so visitors could inspect them closely. The diameter of this log is approximately two-thirds-"Debbie height" - about 3ft (1m).
The Queen Of The Forest is 65ft (20m) in length, 8ft (2½ m) in diameter and has a live oak growing out of its petrified trunk.
We returned home through the Sonoma Valley, another prominent wine-growing region, and stopped in the city of Sonoma. Cows seem to be an important symbol of the region - we saw a number of cow sculptures as we drove along. I thought that the county might have sponsored a program similar to San Jose's SharkByte Art program.

This cow sculpture was on display outside the Sonoma City Hall.

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